Cookham Mum Louise Van Haarst tells how she and her business partner went from an idea over coffee to launch in 6 months.
Cookham mum Louise van Haarst and her business partner Kirrily Morris have launched their new clothing brand The Numbers, making life-affirming, eco-friendly sweatshirts for kids and adults. Having met seven years ago at an NCT class, Louise and Kirrily were inspired to create their own business after struggling to balance the demands of work with young children in school and childcare. Just six months after the idea took shape, they launched their online shop www.thenumbersuk.com, and are already popping up in boutiques and gift markets locally. I asked Louise to tell us more.
What’s the concept behind the numbers?
We make beautifully cut, organic, eco-printed sweatshirts and t-shirts that celebrate your age, whether you are 5 or 50! The inspiration came from our lives as mums, with loads of kids to buy birthday gifts for each year - both our own and their many friends. We knew that our kids absolutely LOVE celebrating their new age each birthday and would wear that number with pride all year. We try to give good quality and eco-conscious gifts that will get a lot of use, but they can be really hard to find, so we decided to make something we’d love to give ourselves.
At the same time, Kiz and I had recently turned 40 and spent quite a lot of time talking about what it meant for us. There can be negativity about big birthdays and we want to smash it! That’s why we decided to make adult number shirts too- whatever your age we want you to OWN IT!
How did you get from idea to launch in six months?
We had both been trying to find way to get back into work for a while, and once we hit on an idea we were excited about we just wanted to get on and do it. Technology has been key - we joke that we built the business on WhatsApp – we could research things separately and share our discoveries and ideas quickly with each other in whatever bit of time we had between school runs and bed-times. The fact we needed to be really efficient with our time also drove us to be quite focused and decisive, it’s been an unexpected benefit of being time poor! Necessity is the mother of invention, and we try wherever possible to ‘say yes’, go with an idea, and not second-guess ourselves.
We have found that our combined backgrounds enable us to tackle almost everything we’ve been challenged with so far (our careers were in different areas of business and consultancy). Kiz is a brilliant photographer so takes all our photos, and I’m usually in charge of words! And when we’ve needed to learn a new skill YouTube and Google have been invaluable - you can now teach yourself almost anything, from SEO to digital marketing. And when we truly don't know how to do something, our network of talented family and friends has saved us.
What’s it like being in business with a friend?
It’s been fantastic, and I’m not sure we could have done it if we weren’t really good friends. We set out an agreement right at the very start about how to resolve disagreements, and how it would work if one of us wanted out. We understand each other’s lives, the pressure points and our different ways of approaching things. With five kids between us, we have to be really flexible – the inevitable sickness, snow days, school holidays – we’re both in the same situation and are always happy to step in for the other. The really lovely bit has been learning about each other’s professional and creative skills, which you don’t necessarily have the chance to see crawling around at soft play! There’s always lots to talk about and we make sure we keep our friendship going by spending time hanging out, not only talking shop.
What brought you to Cookham?
I made the classic move from London with my husband. I knew it was where I wanted to raise a family. I grew up nearby, and Cookham was a place I always loved. My husband was a bit sceptical about leaving town, but luckily trusted my vision! It was the best decision we ever made, there’s such a fantastic community here, great schools and beautiful countryside and the river only ever a stroll away. I never get bored of it.
So what’s next?
We’re busy planning new ranges to be out in later in the year, and finalising our charity partnerships. We’re also really excited that our sweatshirts are going to be stocked in some fantastic independent shops soon – look out for them!